Comfort Zone Training
Brenda McLackland Consultant Clinical Psychologist
12 Jun 2015 @ 18:36
Keep Calm and Carry on
Comfort Zone training provides a simple visual structure which one carer called a ‘map of emotions’. It is a simple colour coded system for understanding and managing emotions aimed at carers and children alike. Once trained in its use a carer said, ‘I explained it to the boys and they got it immediately and they used it to let me know how they were feeling without needing words’.
He was amazed how simply it worked – as he said ‘the boys had no clue about emotions and this gave them a map so they knew where they were and how to calm down. It also gave me insight into how they were feeling which was very helpful’.
Sometimes keeping calm and carrying on is easier said than done when you are caring for a child in placement. The needs of some children in the care system are so complex that it is a challenge not only for the Foster Carers but for the supervising Social Workers too.
It can feel like an exhausting, stressful and bewildering experience. Sometimes it is difficult to know what to do for the best as all the usual strategies spectacularly fail to work. Understanding the emotional world of a damaged, disturbed or defended child is difficult enough but living with this child can also be very frightening and confusing. Comfort Zone is a new approach aimed at helping with these difficulties.
It is a well-known fact that in situations of high stress we find it almost impossible to think clearly. Foster Carers and their supporters seem to get a lot of training on attachment theory a useful theory but does it help in practise when things ‘kick off’.
Attachment theory, a theory of emotional development helps us to understand the child’s behaviour in the context of their history but it provides less accessible strategies to help us or the child know what to do to manage these troublesome emotions when they occur. Comfort Zone provides us with a simple visual approach, no reading necessary!
As I’m sure you are aware, Attachment Theory explains how a child will develop a secure, insecure or disorganised attachment pattern as an adaptation to their early parenting. Most children in the care system will have either an insecure or disorganised pattern as a result of their negative early experiences. This will make it difficult for them to manage their own feelings and interact happily with others.
Our job is to try to help them develop a secure relationship with us so that they can function better emotionally and socially in the future. Comfort zone gives us a unique tool to help with this process.
Most people know that the first step towards forming a secure attachment is attunement or tuning in to a child’s emotions. Indeed, there is a similar process at play in the way we normally promote secure attachments between babies and their parents and the way we help children in placement form secure attachments with their carers.
The difference is that a baby is born with the hardware in place to form attachments and the parents provide the software, the programme which will lead to the development of an attachment pattern. A child in care has already had this experience, has already been programmed, so the carers job is not to programme but to reprogramme.
This is obviously a more complex job not least because you don’t have sight of the original programme!
This process involves repairing ruptures. The ruptures will have occurred in the child’s previous relationships and they will not have been repaired. They will bring these ruptures into their relationship with you and your job is to repair them.S o the reprogramming or repairing ruptures occurs through the quality of all the interactions that the child has with you that are different to the ones he or she had with their birth parents.
Interactions which feel loving, warm and attuned, but also and crucially, boundaried , contribute to a different experience for them, a secure relationship. At the same time these interactions make new and better connections in their brain. From this secure base the child will build an emotional life that is more comfortable for them and one that they can share with others.
As these interactions happen thousands of times a day they naturally won’t always go to plan. But the crucial difference is that even if they go wrong they can usually be put right. The more experiences of this the child has the stronger their new programme will become until hopefully at some point it overrides the initial one.
How can Comfort Zone the child in placement?
This process is not easy in practise but in my experience can be much easier if the child is on side. If the child sees the benefit in what you are trying to do and agrees to help, then you stand the best chance of success. If the child is defended in either an oppositional or withdrawn way you might need some expert help with this process.
Part of this process may involve discussion with the child, when they are calm, about what happens when things go wrong and how you both can change things so next time they go better , thereby repairing the rupture. This is the point at which Comfort Zone training can help.
Children in placement are likely to experience extreme emotions at times. Comfort Zone is explained to children when they are calm. Children of about five years old and over can usually understand the idea and are often fascinated by it. It gives children an understanding of their emotions and how to manage them effectively.
Clearly, they will need your support and with your shared understanding and goals Comfort Zone training facilitates, your chances of success can be improved. Comfort Zone is an approach to helping carers attune to their child in placement.
Foster carers who have trained to use the approach said ‘It does what it says on the tin, it helps people get to and stay in their comfort zone’.
Anything that does that must be worth a shot!
For more information on Comfort Zone training please co get in touch www.mclackland.com